An insider’s guide to hidden spots in San Diego

An insider’s guide to hidden spots in San Diego
Photo by Stephen Niemeier on

When it comes to hidden spots in San Diego, very few remain. What begins as a hidden spot often loses its novelty after the internet exposes that spot. No, we won’t list Black’s Beach, the “secret” La Jolla swing, or the SS Monte Carlo shipwreck. Though Black’s Beach will take you away from the overwhelming crowds of Pacific Beach, too many recognize it as a secret beach for it to make this list.

We know you’ve heard it all before. Visitors might enjoy these aforementioned “hidden” spots, but locals will roll their eyes and sigh, “Been there, done that.” Our list mentions independent businesses and little known outdoor areas for the adventurer who loves to try new things, be it coffee or a hike. Here are some of the best true hidden spots in San Diego.

Tecelote Canyon

San Diego County is the unceded territory of the Kumeyaay people, a Native American tribe. The country bestowed the Kumeyaay word for owl, “tecolote,” on this natural area. With over six miles of winding trails to explore, Tecolote Canyon has a decent amount of land for trail runners, hikers, mountain bikers and dog walkers. It rests beside the stunning campus of University of San Diego, and you’ll most likely catch a glimpse of its symbol, the beautiful church with a blue dome and intricate tower.

You can choose your level of difficulty. The main trail lies almost completely flat for most of the entire canyon, while side trails have moderate to steep inclines. One trail leads up to a row of power lines and dives up and down until you reach the end of Tecolote. Spring showers birth fields of yellow wildflowers along the dusty paths. The beginning of the canyon hosts a Nature Center where you can find information about the flora and fauna in the area. Remember that we share the area with animals like rattlesnakes and coyotes.

Border Field State Park

Though temporarily closed, Border Field State Park has a vast expanse of beaches, trees and trails that leads to the US-Mexico border and Friendship Park. The Mexican side of the border breathes community and art, and the US side of the border feels militarized and cold; however, the natural area leading up to the border is perfect for an afternoon hike to an (almost always) empty beach.

Rooftop Cinema Club Embarcadero

For the cinema buffs who want a change from movie theaters and drive-ins, take a chance on this equally overpriced method of viewing your favorite films. At the top of the Manchester Grand Hyatt is the perfect date night for a San Diego summer evening. Dress up, book a love seat, order romantic cocktails, look out over the ocean and don’t forget to take pictures. Bottomless popcorn, candy and drinks make it a must for snack-lovers. They screen everything from “The Princess Bride” and “500 Days of Summer” to “The Breakfast Club” and “Fight Club.” You can drive, walk, take the trolley or even hop on a Lime scooter with a buddy to reach the Rooftop Cinema Club Embarcadero. The club is 18+, except for Family-Friendly Sundays.

Rose Donuts

One of the tastiest hidden spots in San Diego is Rose Donuts. Any University of San Diego student would scoff at the sight of this treasured business on a “hidden spot” list. Tourists don’t tend to frequent Linda Vista given the corporate restaurants and fast food that grow like noxious weeds over the neighborhood. Unless you’re a USD student or a Linda Vista local, you most likely won’t think of the area as a hot spot for food or entertainment.

At the seam of the neighborhood on the corner of Linda Vista Road and Napa Street, a little gem of a doughnut shop attracts hordes of hungry college students. Rose Donuts faced closing after a terrible tragedy occurred a few years ago, but the shop was resurrected by Kenneth Chu to keep its legacy alive. The menu reaches beyond the fluffy doughnut to include ice cream, breakfast croissants, bagels and sandwiches, pastries, drinks and mouthwatering chocolate chip cookies. Indulge your sweet tooth and give this adorable and delicious small business some love.

Garden Coffee

The oldest part of San Diego, Old Town, is home to a quaint coffee shop decked out in plants. If “Secret Garden” holds a special place in your heart, and you just so happen to call yourself a coffee connoisseur, a visit to this local business is a must. With a vibrant and ever-changing menu full of fun experimental drinks and pastries, Garden Coffee may escape your notice unless you’re on the lookout. The outdoor patio makes a perfect study spot, and the wall of the gazebo merits a picture with friends underneath an Audrey Hepburn quote surrounded by leaves and lavender: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

The “Space”

2355 India Street houses a myriad small businesses in Little Italy, including the up-and-coming James Coffee Company, a cute shop full of greeting cards, a collective of classically trained barbers, a gift shop for handmade items like candles and jewelry, a haven for your DIY-fiend friend and more. The warehouse is one of the few lesser known spots in one of the most visited San Diego neighborhoods.

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